Clock ticking

Mine firm in N. Vizcaya braces for workers’ strike

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 29, 2014)

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—An Australian company operating a gold-copper project in upland Kasibu town in Nueva Vizcaya province has alerted employees about an impending strike by members of a workers’ union over wages.

Brennan Lang, general manager of the Didipio project of OceanaGold Philippines Inc., said employees who are not members of the union would be asked to change their schedule or perform functions in anticipation of the vacuum that would be created by those who would join the picket line.

“All department heads have been tasked with developing contingency plans to maintain operations in the event of a strike,” he said in a memorandum circulated among workers last week.

The work stoppage at OceanaGold Didipio mine loomed after members of Pun-oh-ohaan Hi Kiphodan (Kiphodan) labor union, the only recognized workers’ group of the Didipio project, voted last week to proceed with the strike.

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In this 2013 file photo, mine workers at OceanaGold Philippines, Inc.’s gold-copper project in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya undergo routine security check before entering the mining site in Didipio village. The company is preparing for a possible strike that will be staged by the workers union as should final attempts at negotiations continue to fail. Photo By Melvin Gascon

Failed negotiations

The Jan. 20 balloting came more than a month after the union filed on Dec. 10 a notice of strike in the Department of Labor and Employment, following failed negotiations.

Lang said workers who do not report for work, regardless of whether they joined the strike, would not receive their wages.

The union has at least 80 members, mostly Didipio residents, out of the 350 workers of OceanaGold.

The impending strike is the latest problem to hit the Didipio mining project, which began commercial production in 2013 amid continuing opposition from the antimining community led by the Catholic Church in Nueva Vizcaya.

The dispute stemmed from disagreements between Kiphodan and OceanaGold over terms of the three-year collective bargaining agreement, mainly provisions on the workers’ compensation and other economic benefits.

P12 vs P32

In previous talks, union members demanded a P32 per day across-the-board wage increase, or about P1,000 a month, but OceanaGold offered an increase of only P12 a day, to go along with other forms of remuneration.

The offers, however, may no longer hold up for the remainder of prolonged negotiations, Lang said in a memo.
“In declaring a bargaining deadlock, the union has effectively rejected this offer and the company cannot guarantee that all or any of the above benefits will be part of any final agreement,” he said.

In a phone interview, Wendy Nicano, Kiphodan union president, said they rejected the company’s offer because it was too meager for today’s living standards.

“We studied [our numbers] carefully and concluded that we really cannot go below P1,000. If the company has reasons for the offer, we too have our own reasons [to reject it],” she said.

Cheaper gold

In his memo, Lang cited the financial distress that the company has been going through as the reason it cannot grant the union’s P1,000 demand in wage increase.

“The company has suffered from a 27-percent decrease in the price of gold over the past year. In order to reduce costs and remain profitable, the company has laid off 40 percent of our exploration department staff in the Philippines, and our New Zealand staff has accepted pay reductions,” he said.

Even OceanaGold’s corporate leaders in Melbourne in Australia have agreed to a 5-percent salary cut earlier this year, Lang said.#

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Reversal

DOJ pushes raps vs Chinese aliens for illegal mining

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–The Department of Justice has recommended the filing of criminal charges against 23 Chinese and their three Filipino partners for alleged illegal mining in the coastal villages of Aparri in Cagayan in August 2013.

In a resolution, lawyer Rommel Baligod, regional state prosecutor, found probable cause to indict workers of the Hua Xia Mining and Trading Corp. for alleged theft of minerals from the beaches of Paddaya and Dodan villages.

“It is beyond dispute that respondents extracted about 150 metric tons of magnetized sand (black sand) from the shores of Aparri, Cagayan and then transferred and stockpiled them in their processing plant inland for processing. Such act constitutes theft of minerals under the Mining Act,” the six-page DOJ resolution read in part.

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A cargo ship docked at Port Irene at the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Santa Ana, Cagayan awaits loading of processed magnetite from blacksand mining operations in the coastal and riverside communities of the province, with the help of mineral processing plant such as this one in the foreground. Anti-mining advocates said these activities are illegal and are benefiting mainly unscrupulous politicians and officials in government. Photo by Melvin Gascon

The DOJ named the accused aliens as Wang Wendong, Yang Yonglian, Ma Pei Hua, Zhu Liren, Hou Linlin, Fu Yujun, Xiao Peibao, Li Wenyong, Li Liming, Jin Dejun, Li Laijie, Wang Chengqiang, Jiang Bin, Lin Quiang, Xu Jianjun, Jiang Bin, Lin Quing, Xu Jianjun, Jiang Nan, Zheng Feng and Wang Gongliang.

It also implicated Hua Xia’s other corporate officers, including Chinese Gao Dejun, Zhang Deliang, and Filipinos Rebecca Gregorio, Atanacio Hipolito and Alejandro Fernandez.

The case was filed before the Cagayan DOJ in August by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation, days after rounding up the suspects in a series of raids against illegal blacksand mining activities in Aparri, Buguey and Gonzaga towns.

The arrested suspects however, were released days later after Cagayan prosecutors, cleared the suspects of the charges, citing mostly technical errors.

This prompted the NBI to elevate the case to the regional DOJ on appeal.

In its Jan. 6 resolution, the regional prosecutor’s office contradicted the earlier findings of the Cagayan DOJ, saying the technical lapses they cited were “substantially” complied with by the NBI, which acted as complaining party.

It debunked the respondents’ defense that the volume of blacksand which was found in their possession was only derived from a “test-run” operation.

“(The suspects) alienated the State’s ownership of the minerals by appropriating the same for processing whether for a test run of their plant or a full scale operation. What matters is that they exercise ownership over the sand that they take away,” the DOJ said.

The respondents’ claim that their activities were tolerated by the agents of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) does not likewise absolve them of criminal liability, the resolution said.

“If indeed the MGB people gave such instructions or blessing for the respondents to extract and dispose of the minerals without permit, it will not free the respondents of any criminal liability; the only effect is that it will also make the erring MGB official/s equally liable for complicity,” it added.

Sought for comment, Mario Ancheta, MGB regional director for Cagayan Valley, laughed off allegations that they “gave their blessings” for the Chinese mining company to conduct blacksand mining operations in Aparri.

“We were told that there was a (memorandum of agreement) between Hua Xia and the local government of Aparri which required the extraction of blacksand, and we allowed it out of respect for the (town government),” he said, adding that most blacksand extraction activities in Cagayan were covered by permits.

Restive

Workers’ strike looms at N. Vizcaya mining site

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya–Workers of a large-scale mining project in upland Kasibu town here are set to go on strike, following a deadlock in their negotiations with the mining company over a number of wage-related demands.

On Monday, members of the Pun-Oh-Ohhaan Hi Kiphodan labor union (Kiphodan) cast their votes on whether or not they would launch a work stoppage and force their employer, mining firm OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. to address their grievances.

Kiphodan consists of about 80 workers and employees of the gold-copper project in Didipio, which is operated by OceanaGold, an Australian company.

“We are left with no choice but to go on strike. We tried to come to terms with the company but they would not heed our demands,” said Wendy Nicano, union president.Image

The impending labor strike comes on the heels of three failed negotiations between union officers and the company for the past five weeks, triggered by the workers’ filing of a notice to strike with the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) on Dec. 10.

According to Nicano, OceanaGold has refused to heed the same demands that workers have been airing since the company went into full commercial operations in Didipio in April 2013.

Union members have been complaining about the supposed meager pay that they have been getting from the company, and the “discriminatory” scheme of benefits among its employees, especially against locals.

They have also been protesting the alleged harassment being waged by OceanaGold officials against union officers and sympathizers, including the supposedly unjust termination of Nicano and sanctions slapped against other officers for “petty” violations.

“(The workers) had attained small victories especially after the mayor ordered a shutdown of the mine last year. But in general, this company seems not intimidated by anything or anyone, and just imposes its will on the people,” she said.

This writer tried to reach OceanaGold officials for comment, but they declined. Ramoncito Gozar, senior vice president for communications and external affairs, said he has yet to receive his copy of the strike notice.

On Jan. 10, the union filed a notice with the Dole’s National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) to hold strike vote, following the lapse of the 30-day “cooling off” period from the day they filed the notice to strike.

For Monday’s vote, the workers, who are working round-the-clock mostly on an eight-hour shift, will be given the chance to cast their vote only during their breaks, said Estrella Rosal, NCMB Cagayan Valley director.

She said that since the talks began, the union and OceanaGold have managed to agree on a number of issues in the workers’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

“The only unresolved issues have to something to do with the economic provisions in the CBA, or those that pertain to salaries and wages,” the official said.

According to Rosal, the NCMB will continue to pursue negotiations and possible settlement between the parties, regardless of the result of Monday’s strike balloting.#